How photographers can benefit from a Capture One workflow

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athol.hill@mac.com

When people talk about what they do with post-processing workflows, it’s sometimes easy to assume there is a magic “one size fits all” process you can follow. There isn’t. Workflows are a little like houses. They all kind of look similar, but inside they’re different. 

As someone who shoots various genres, my workflow tends to differ depending on the genre. If I’m shooting sports or events, it’s generally high volumes of processing the same kind of image with very little photoshop work; if I’m shooting portraits, I want to find those 5-20 exceptional images and spend more time on those. If I work on landscapes, it’s a couple of pictures with a lot more time spent on each. I may even take only one photo from a landscape shoot.

Given workflows are predominantly genre and photographer-dependent, the focus of this article is to take you through my Capture One process from end to end, pointing out some of the unique things I do along the way depending on the types of images I process. Hopefully, it will help you understand and create your own workflow that makes sense, rather than trying to use mine and finding out it doesn’t work for you.

I have no idea whether the process I follow is what other photographers use or whether I am getting it all wrong; all I know is that it’s the process I use, and it works for me. So let’s start at the beginning, with my memory card ready to insert into my machine.

My Capture One Workflow from Import to Export

Step 1: Importing 

These are some of the default configurations when I import into Capture One.

When I import, I typically import photos to my local drive, which is an SSD (solid state drive). I want it fast from an accessibility perspective when generating previews or editing. I also back up my local drive to a local backup and an online backup facility. All backups happen automatically in the background the moment the files are imported.

 Tip: Don’t import directly from the camera. Rather import via a card reader. Cameras are more prone to corrupting files on import.

I import to a local folder called “Images to be edited” using Capture One’s store-by-date option. It creates a folder for the date of the folder, and if the photos were shot over more than one day, it would have separate folders for each day. These will ultimately get moved to an external drive, usually three months later, when I know final edits are complete and the customer has accepted the work.

When I import, I give the photos a job name to make it searchable. I tend to keep that separate from the file or folder name because I can use the date as a unique means to find the images.

Some settings such as ICC Profile, Contrast or Clarity can default if you know they form a starting point for all your images.

As a side note, I have some defaults applied to the images when I import. These defaults are essential as it means you get the pictures closer to the end product with no work. Defaults could include a default ICC profile, contrast, lens correction, etc.

To apply your defaults, create a setting for a particular slider and click on the three dots to get the set as default for this camera. You will need to set these up for each camera if you have more than one camera. The reason for that is that each camera could require different defaults.

Step 2: Reviewing Images – The First Pass

Batch processing for some events helps reduce the processing time when your exposure is consistent and all you require is cropping.

Once the initial import is complete, I start evaluating the images. What I am looking for are really good and bad photos. The context of good and bad may change depending on the context; with a model shoot, I’m fussy about good and bad. With events, I’m dealing with everyday people who want a photo of themselves. As a result, I’m just looking for photos with the subjects in focus. Most people would rather see a mediocre picture of themselves crossing the finish line than none at all.

With events, I will give higher priority to some during the second pass. There I am typically looking for images with emotion and/or sponsor brand photos as they will be looking to get the event’s publicity out as quickly as possible. Photos with emotion sell the drama of the event and how important finishing is, and these are often used post-event or for advertising the following year’s event.

Sometimes you have to be careful with this process, which is why I say only delete images that are out of focus or motion blur. Photos can be deceptive at first glance, particularly in raw. I’d rather give something no stars and keep it than delete it and potentially need it later. I can delete my no-star photos 3-6 months later.

Some people use different star gradings to signify whether you can recover an image. If I shot weddings, I might consider that approach. With weddings, you have one shot at something; if you miss it, you may need to use whatever you have. For what I do, that doesn’t happen.

Occasionally, I may crop and change exposure during a first pass, sometimes during the second pass. It’s usually to understand whether a particular image may be more usable with a portrait vs landscape crop. I also occasionally switch to black and white to change the look of the picture. Some photos you will take are overexposed for black and white, so I do a test on one in a sequence to validate my thinking at the time of the photo and then leave the rest with five stars if it’s not too obvious, which is the best of the lot.

Step 3: Reviewing Images – The Second Pass

This screenshot shows an unedited raw file with a BNW Style and crop applied. In many cases, a light edit is sufficient to give the model the first look to see which images she wants to process. Aside from skin editing, it could almost pass as a final image.

My next pass is a process of light editing and culling. The second review involves fixing white balance, exposure and crops. Having multiple similar images also gives me a chance to apply some changes in bulk. The kinds of bulk changes I’d consider are:

  • Exposure
  • Gradient filters
  • White balance (if not applied earlier)
  • Shadows/Highlights
  • Styles

Sometimes, I may switch to black and white to see how it changes the look. Sometimes I have a preconceived idea of what I am trying to achieve, but often a slight change in style can take you in a completely different direction. I’m not against using Capture One Styles; I use them regularly for events. Some purists hate them, but it’s often an easy way to get a feel for the look you want from a photo. 

It’s a process of elimination where necessary to ensure that I can reduce the number of images to something more workable. This isn’t as big an issue with portrait shoots where there are small numbers of photos but if you’re doing an event with 500-1000 photos, bringing the numbers down is essential. This process would allow me to reduce the number of pictures by about 60%.

If I have three similar images, which I can’t decide on, I may start with colours by making them all blue. Blue lets me see at a glance that I need to pick one out of them. Sometimes I may keep all 3 for a model to review to see if she has a preference.

Step 4: Client Reviews

If I’m passing it on to a client to review, I start with colour coding allowing them to pick their favourite images. I used to have to export to Smugmug or Dropbox and watermark images, but thankfully, Capture One Online made this more straightforward, mainly if the review isn’t happening with the client in person. I use star ratings and colours when I review with clients in person.

Capture One Online could even be used for TFP shoots, letting models decide which images they prefer. For example, I give my client a selection of pictures and ask them to pick a specific number they want me to process. I toyed with the idea of getting them to change the star rating, but more often than not, you only need their final selection. 

Heavy watermarks can be automatically applied to Capture One Live images to ensure there is no confusion about using unedited pictures. People are excited when they get photos from a shoot, and often, they will put them up on Facebook unprocessed.

The nice thing with Capture One Live is that it only leaves the images online for a defined period. As a result, you don’t have to worry about unprocessed photos sitting on the web long term.  

Step 5: Colour Coding and Heavy Editing

Depending on whether I have gone through a customer review, this is where the next bit of magic happens. I use colour coding to track where I am in an edit. It may be a combination of Red -> Orange -> Yellow -> Green or just Red -> Orange -> Green. The colours themselves are irrelevant; it’s what makes sense for you. I’ve changed my colour sequencing over the years, or sometimes for a specific shoot, because there is something different I have to consider.

So here is what the colours could mean in a complex workflow:

  • Blue – Multiple similar images with the final image to be selected
  • Red – The photo was chosen by the client and needed to be edited
  • Orange – The photo is currently in the editing process, but the editing is incomplete. This may either be due to having to give higher priority to another image or customer or because I think to rethink how I approach the image. 
  • Yellow – Editing in Capture One completed; some final photoshop required. Final editing could be something like background removal or frequency separation. 
  • Green – Image complete and exported. 
  • Purple – If I need customer approval of a final image, I may use purple to identify which images are now approved. Again, Capture One Live now makes this a lot easier without 

That’s probably the most complex example. In some cases, like events, it can be as simple as five stars for “to be edited” and green for editing complete. It depends on what you need for a workflow.

Step 6: My Editing Process

The two images aren’t a mistake. I often carry different crops of final images for social media and print.

In the previous section on colours, I covered a little about how I manage the colours but not the specific sequencing of the editing. Previously I mentioned I do some light editing (white balance, exposure, occasional crops) during the ratings on the images.

From a workflow perspective, I recommend sequencing your tools in a custom editing tab in the sequence you intend to edit. I.e. if the first thing you do is white balance, put it at the top. If the next thing you do is exposure, put that next.

Some people like going through the sequencing left to right. I’m more of an up-down person, and I want to have everything I need on one tab. Capture One gives you both options. I use the quick tab option for most of my editing

My sequencing looks something like this:

  • Base characteristics
  • White balance
  • Exposure 
  • Crop (using menu bar)
  • High dynamic range – If required
  • Gradients – If required
  • Clarity – If different from the default
  • Dehaze – If required
  • Layers – If required
  • Styles – If required
  • Colour balance – If required
  • Colour editing – If required
  • Photoshop – If required
  • Noise reduction/Moire/Purple fringing
  • Clone and crop again (Instagram vs other)
  • Vignette – If required
  • Sharpening

The items I leave for last are the vignetting and noise reduction. I don’t want to adjust moire, sharpening or noise reduction before frequency separation in Photoshop as an example.

Step 7: Exporting

The ability to add logos is an important part of workflows

Exporting is where it gets interesting again because, like a workflow, you may need to have multiple options available. Some simple examples:

  • If I shoot an event, I typically have two exports I need: One is low-resolution photos with a logo suited to social media publishing on Facebook or Instagram. The second is high-resolution images, typically without a logo. The high-resolution pictures may be used by the brand (or its partners) to advertise current events or future events on its website. 
  • Suppose I shoot a model where I know the images are going up on social media. In that case, I usually provide images (formatted and cropped for social media) along with high-resolution images for printing. 
  • If I shoot a family, I follow the same guidelines as a model.
  • If I am shooting for an article on Shotkit, I only need lower-resolution images that meet a specific guideline required by the website. Sometimes I have different crops available for Instagram. For example, I may use portrait orientation for a story or when a review is published, whilst all images on the website are landscape.

The key things to think about above are the following:

  • Do I need it in a specific folder? For example, I have one folder for Facebook and one Full Size. I then have particular folders setup up for customer exports, so I don’t accidentally upload a photo from another shoot, which is unprofessional. 
  • Image size/Resolution? Is it for the web or printing, and who is the person using it? Most of the time, you won’t know whether the person editing has the skills to downsize, so giving them the correct size up front is essential. 
  • Image quality? If it’s full size for printing, it’s at max quality, but for web images, I try to keep them under 400KB.
  • ICC Profile? If I am giving photos for web use or Instagram, my default is SRGB. If it’s full-size images for print, it’s Adobe RGB.
  • Logo/Watermark? Logos can be complex as it sometimes depends on the final image resolution and how big you want the logo. In my case, I only typically include logos with smaller web prints, but it’s something to think about.

Each of the above has unique requirements. If it’s a once-off, I copy an existing item and modify it for short-term use or use one of my defaults. If I know I will be using the export multiple, then it’s something I will name and keep long-term. I do have some defaults configured for everyday use that include: Facebook, Instagram, and Full Size.

Step 8: Final Cleanups

Capture One Live automatically unpublishes photos after a defined period, ensuring you don’t have unedited images sitting on the web for extended periods.

I mentioned earlier that I move images to an external drive about 3-6 months after final edits. While I do this, there are a couple of tasks I may undertake:

  • I clean out any unrated images that I know will not be required again. These are the ones rated zero stars. Keep in mind that I do still have a backup on the cloud for a further 12 months
  • I check for any rough edits that I did not use. 
  • If TIF files are enormous (panoramas), I may convert the final copies to a JPG. 

Fortunately, I don’t need to worry about Capture One Live as it removes itself automatically. 

What about Capture One for iPad?

Capture One for iPad produces high-quality images

Capture One for iPad is the new kid on the block, and I am still incorporating it into my workflow. Long term, I think it will help reduce the need to bring my Macbook Air on the road with me, and I might be able to get away with just the iPad. 

For example, I am on a kitesurfing trip as a photographer in October. Most of the time, that means I get to kitesurf, but my journey will be subsidised by spending a couple of hours out in the water with my water housing taking photos and providing process images to the other attendees.

With Capture One for iPad, I can build up a collection of pictures over the trip while dumping the ones that haven’t made the cut. In doing that, I am not carrying ludicrous amounts of storage. I can also start to push out semi-edited photos to social media whilst I save the complete edits for when I am on my desktop.

Currently, that means exporting the part-edited images to my desktop. It’s a competent editing engine as far as iPad editing apps go, but I still need to have my desktop or laptop around for more complex edits. As the functionality extends, it may even entirely negate my laptop’s need.

Capture One WorkFlow: In Summary

This article may have had a lot of information, but you can use the information selectively if required. One of the things I often get asked is whether workflows are primarily for professionals, and the answer is no. I use similar workflows for my personal processing.

A workflow is an optimal way for you to post-process consistently but also to maximise your output. It helps you understand at any point where you are in the process. Minimising replication means less work, and if you’re anything like me, post-processing is not what I want to be doing more. I’d rather spend more time behind the camera and less behind the computer.

If you have any questions, please feel free to post them here, and I’ll be happy to answer where I can.

Athol Hill is a sports and portrait photographer based in Melbourne, Australia

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